Saigon Archbishop Nguyen Van Binh Interviewed
According to a recent report from the French Catholic biweekly, Eglises d'Asie, Vatican-SRV talks during Msgr. Claudio Celli's visit to Vietnam in early April were a disaster. The major disagreement was over the government's unwillingness to approve appointments for four bishops in Vietnam. The sharpest disagreement in this respect has been over the replacement of 85-year-old archbishop of Saigon Nguyen Van Binh. In a interview by the official newspaper Saigon Giai Phong (Saigon Liberation) printed on April 29, Msgr. Binh expresses his view on this issue, as well as other church- state issues. Following is an excerpt of the interview translated and published in the May 19, 1995 issue of the East Asia Daily Report of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).
[Saigon Giai Phong] On 30 April 1995, it will be exactly 20 years since the liberation of Saigon. As a leading Catholic Church official in Saigon City, could you give us your impression and your views on your 20 years of living and practicing religion under the socialist regime?
[Nguyen Van Binh] My deepest impression when looking back over the past 20 years is that I have already lived the longest part of my life.
I was born in 1910 and am going to turn 85. The past 20 years were indeed close to the end of my life. They were also close to the end of my career as an archbishop- I have been assigned to the Saigon diocese since 1960. As an archbishop, I spent 15 years working under the previous regime and 20 years under the present regime, and my current position is only nominal.
A person's life can be likened to going on a mountain trek. The first 50 years are like climbing up the mountain and the last 50 years are like climbing down. When climbing up, you may feel that time drags. When climbing down, you may feel that time is passing by too fast.
To me, the past 20 years were the period of climbing down the mountain. Somehow, I feel that this period was too long. Psychologically, you often feel that time is too slow when you are expecting something.
[Saigon Giai Phong] Could you be more specific about your expectations?
[Nguyen Van Binh] As a Vietnamese, I want to see our country become prosperous and powerful. As a clergyman of the Catholic Church, I always want to see church affairs flourish and the religion enjoy freedom and a state of normalcy. There were many things that I waited for in vain for a long time. They never came, or if they did they arrived at a gradual, very slow pace.
[Saigon Giai Phong] So after 20 years of working under the communist regime, are you still afraid of the communists?
[Nguyen Van Binh] Yes, I am still afraid... When we read major party and state policies and lines and meet with high-ranking leaders, we see that everything is easy, but when we manage grassroots activities, we still encounter very complicated problems. When I am informed of the difficulties facing Catholic priests, clergymen, and laymen in various localities, I really do not know what to say. Even at the central level, there are many very simple problems that should have been resolved once and for all instead of being dragged on and on by the application of partial solutions. As a case in point, let me mention the training of priests. Why are we not allowed to recruit annually like other universities and seminaries in the world, instead of only once every six years, then once every three years, and now once every two years? Why must the state restrict the number of priests for each diocese? What will the party, state, or society lose? Or is it the policy of the party and state to restrict the number of priests to hinder the development of the Catholic Church?
[Saigon Giai Phong] With regard to the Ho Chi Minh city diocese alone, what are your impressions?
[Nguyen Van Binh] Everyone admits that relatively more tolerant measures have been applied to the Saigon city diocese than anywhere else. Yet measures that go beyond what is necessary have been taken in incidents involving Vinh Son Church, some orders in Thu Duc, the Dong Cong order, and so forth. Nonetheless, measures have been taken to overcome the consequences of the aforementioned incidents and it can be said that no considerable upheavals have occurred over the past 20 years. Regarding religious activities, no problems have been reported over the past several years. One problem still drags on, however. The appointment of an apostolic administrator -- or to be more specific, the selection of my successor -- has dragged on for a relatively long time without any solution in sight -- the problem concerning the appointment of an apostolic administrator has lasted nearly two years. Why?
[Saigon Giai Phong] As a leader of the Catholic Church in Saigon City, what are your views about the future of Catholicism and the nation?
[Nguyen Van Binh] I am now old and weak, I cannot work much anymore. I have only some wishes:
...I hope that the party and state will quickly and completely solve some unwarranted matters that have existed concerning religious policy for dozens of years, and at the same time introduce clear guidelines and regulations to ensure the normality of religious activities and to help devout people harmoniously contribute to national construction along with other people...
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